Game Night

First out of the box this week is the classic Modern Art. Kim is very good at this game, and when she let me win a few weeks back I figured I better enjoy it, because it doesn’t happen often. Sure enough, Kim won again – despite the fact that she never played a single ‘=’ card (some have leveled the complaint that the double-auctions can be a bit powerful). I did poorly, finishing last, despite selling a pair of Christin P’s for 150 in the last round, as much as I can ever remember getting from a single auction. The bidding was overall a bit conservative as it turns out (although we did have a new player who egregiously overbid a couple times), so it was a buyer’s game generally and I just didn’t acquire enough art in the middle game. Art is good, because it provides both money and power.

Milton had acquired a copy of Magna Grecia at the Wizard’s fire sale, and this was one I was interested in trying so I got into that while the others moved on to Was Sitcht?. This is a game by Leo Colovini, a designer I’ve cooled on after his first two games (Carolus Magnus and Cartegena, both of which I liked). He seems a bit over-exposed these days, and his designs to me are often dry and unengaging (Doge, Clans). But, I had heard some good stuff about Magna Grecia.

Basically, it’s a railroad game. You’re trying to build networks of cities, and you score points for having markets in cities that are connected to lots of other cities. There are also points for Oracles, which are won by founding cities connected to lots of other cities, also connected to the Oracle. Each turn, a card is turned up which specifies the turn order and gives all the players a choice from three actions, of which you can choose two – building some number of roads, cities, or increasing your El Grande-esque reserve of pieces. There are two versions of the game, 8 and 12 turns. We played the 8-turn version.

I found it a bit hard to engage on this game, I must admit. Part of it is theme (or lack thereof), I’m sure – Knizia takes flak for weak themes, but this is ridiculous; Magna Grecia is very dry. Part of it is the analysis paralysis issue – there is nothing to do between turns, and the board situation usually changes too much between moves as you have a great deal of freedom in where to play. Part of it is also that the game is very incremental, so you spend a lot of time agonizing over plays that really have little to differentiate them. As a result of this, I am suspicious it may be far too “damped”, with little ability for the players to really get ahead. And although it doesn’t generally bother me that much, the graphic design on this product really is appalling. The pieces and map are ugly, and the turn-order chits are very confusing.

Now all this having been said, despite all the issues I actually thought the game wasn’t bad. You’ve got to plan a bit, managing your reserve stocks. There are obviously different strategies to be pursued. It presents you with tough choices. There are significant tensions on the scarce resources. All things that I like, generally. Due to the downtime issues and my suspicions about the game balance, I’m in no hurry to go out and get a copy, even at 40% off – and it certainly doesn’t compare very favorably to either Stephenson’s Rocket or Morisi, two games it has more than a passing resemblance to. But the acid test is that it has enough good stuff that I would definitely play again; I am certain my opinion would go either up or down significantly with another playing or two.

Game Night

Both Scott & I were in a “please, no trick-taking games” mode at first, so we opened up with a game of the classic Modern Art. I actually rarely do well in this game, largely because Kim has won virtually every game of this that I’ve played. I had a killer hand, though, and Kim made a critical mistake by not getting out Krypto (of which she had a ton) early, instead going for the easy money at a time when these things rarely make much difference. On the other hand, everyone played into the strengths of my hand and I had several critical = cards which I got out in round 3 for big money. So I won.

Linda had then requested Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, and we had 8, so we went ahead and did two boards. I really, really, wish this were a better game, but it just isn’t. It’s just too hard, too random, and not balanced enough. Every game of the two-board version I’ve played has been won by one player who racked up everything on one board, then hopped over and played two turns to pick up the missing fetish. Even in the three-board variation, usually two-thrid of the playing time is played on one board. Also, in every game I’ve played, the winner (and second and third place) have come from the table that plays fastest. Valiant try, but hopefully someone will take this game and make a good table-hopping game; this one the cost of switching is just too high, and the advantages/disadvantages of various tables too difficult to tell, and the game is too short and lacks development (in that you just accumulate stuff, the game doesn’t develop or mature as you play it). Still a good experience game for a couple plays with 2-3 (ideally 3) boards, but really just not there as a game. One thing I did wonder, I have been working on the assumption that about 4 players per board is best, but I actually wonder if 3 boards/9 players might work better. There is logic both ways (it lowers the cost of jumping boards, but going from 3-3-3 to 2-4-3 might be perceived to advantage the 2-player board too much). Still, this configuration would definitely be worth trying before going on.

Last was Adel Verpflichtet, the classic bluffing game from Klaus Teuber. It’s actually been a very long time since I played it – I used to play it endlessly back when it first came out in the US, maybe 1992, 1993? This really is a great game, simple, fast, and fun to play, with significant skill but not so much that everyone can’t feel they’re in it. I went with my usual contrarian strategy – people usually focus on art acquisition early, so I try to get minimal exhibits together and just display, display, display and get out to a huge lead. It almost worked, but a couple untimely thieves and the fact that my pieces were all over the place (mostly A, B, E, F) meant I had a hard time keeping an exhibit together and petered out towards the end, when Scott was able to overtake me for the win. I’m glad this great game will be coming back into print soon (although the name – Hoity Toity? – would not have been my first choice).

Game Night: Modern Art & Puerto Rico

Just a quick visit to SVB for me this week, enough time to fit in games of Modern Art & Puerto Rico. Man, these are tough games to play with a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. Both are great games, but when players start bidding more than the painting could possibly be worth in Modern Art, or when the first player in the first round of Puerto Rico takes the Mayor, you know it’s going to be one of those games. The cool thing about these games, though, is that I still enjoy them even when the outcome is made rather random by the newbies. So I did enjoy them. But I have to remember I like Modern Art more with people who’ve played some before 🙂